Keenan on Twin Oaks and Economics

Twin Oaks and Economics

[Guest Post by Keenan]

It seems to me that Twin Oaks is thriving, but I don’t want to believe that Twin Oaks is doing well when we are not. The Farm in Tennessee went bankrupt in the eighties because they thought they were doing fine, when actually they were sliding deep into debt. So is there some sort of accurate empirical measure of the health of a commune?

Twin Oaks doesn’t have any debt—that’s significant—perhaps the most significant economic indicator there is. Twin Oaks’ Dun and Bradstreet rating is as high as it can be for a “business” our size. So Twin Oaks is unlikely to fail due to debt. Maybe that’s all we need to know. But I wonder…

Using other economic indicators, Twin Oaks is doing rather poorly. For instance, everyone at Twin Oaks lives below the poverty line. Twin Oakers could get food stamps since we qualify, but we really don’t need food stamps, we can grow our own food, thank you very much.

We don't need your food stamps

We don’t need your food stamps

Twin Oaks is larger, at 500 acres, than a handful of countries; if Twin Oaks were a country what would our GDP be? [From Wikipedia: Gross domestic product (GDP) is the market value of all officially recognized final goods and services produced within a country in a year. GDP per capita is often considered an indicator of a country's standard of living and is one of the primary indicators used to gauge the health of a country's economy.] If Twin Oaks were a country, economically we’d be at about the same level of GDP as Armenia, Swaziland, and Guatemala. That’s not good.

Collectively, Twin Oaks’ bank account might seem large, but divided out among 110 people, it’s not that much. Why is it since Twin Oaks has no debt, we own 500 acres, have a dozen buildings, run a handful of successful business that we don’t rank better using standard economic indicators?

There are some other economic indicators that can be measured at Twin Oaks, e.g. Unemployment: current unemployment in the United States is just above seven percent. [This is actually falsely low, since there are many people who would like to have a job, but who have given up looking; they are considered employed, or at least, they aren’t counted as unemployed--OK, that’s bizarre] Twin Oaks has zero unemployment. Everyone works, unless they are elderly or sick. That is, if you can work; you work; if you can’t work, you don’t work. Twin Oaks has always had full employment. By that statistic Twin Oaks is doing great.

In the mainstream economy a worker cannot casually try out being a teacher, a farmer, a mechanic, an accountant etc. Students must pick a career path early, expend lots of time and money getting the required certification, and only then see whether the work is suitable. Additionally, it does not pay to be a dilettante in the mainstream culture. Work security comes from working full time, and work satisfaction comes (if it comes at all) from getting promotions.

Twin Oaks does not have protective barriers around jobs. Anyone can try anything that they want to try. The outcome is a labor scene that is far different from the mainstream labor scene—immeasurably different. No one works at one job at Twin Oaks; people easily switch jobs. People, we discover, are happier not having to work 40 hours at one job. And still the work of the community gets done. There is no work sabotage, or sneaking off with inventory. Twin Oaks wins on worker satisfaction.  Because there is no unemployment at Twin Oaks, there is no class stratification. Because there is no class stratification there is no poverty, no crime, no need to hire a police force, or live in a state of constant fear. The crime rate is, essentially zero. Twin Oaks wins on crime statistics and, of course, income inequality.

Twin Oaks is hardly outside of the market economy in our businesses. Twin Oaks’ hammocks business has been thriving for over thirty-five years while other hammocks businesses in the United States have gone out of business. Twin Oaks’ tofu business and East Wind’s nut butter business demonstrate that a communal society can successfully start and operate a capital-intensive business.

When Pier One Imports dropped Twin Oaks hammocks, which accounted for 75% of Twin Oaks’ income at that time, there was no desperation or impetus to start making a shoddy product, do false advertising, or other strategies common for mainstream businesses undergoing stress. Workers switched to other work, the community expanded smaller businesses, and everyone took an equal pay cut, metaphorically speaking. The other businesses grew. Within two years, Twin Oaks’ income was back to where it was. And, of course, no one was laid off.  [Paxus note:  When Pier 1 came back and asked us to make hammocks for them again, about 4 years after they dropped us, we declined, we had moved forward and did not want to work with them for the relatively low wages per hammock that we had in the past.]

During this time , a well-established and well-known leisure goods company approached Twin Oaks to make cotton hammocks. Twin Oaks had, at that time, slack production capacity. The offer sounded very profitable for Twin Oaks. but we turned the offer down. Why? Because cotton rope is hard to work with; the rope is heavy and would have contributed to wrist injuries. Also, cotton hammocks don’t last as long. We would be selling an inferior product at a higher price. None of the workers wanted to work with cotton hammocks. If the order had been accepted, it is likely that workers would have found work elsewhere in our community.

Health, happiness, and ethics won out over mere profit. How do you measure that decision? Literally, how can you measure happiness? How to measure an unhurt wrist, or a happier workplace? Doing work that is aligned with your own ethical compass? Those considerations don’t have much of a place in the mainstream economic model.

The goal of mainstream economics is to atomize society into individual consumers and to monetize every transaction so that they can be more accurately measured. People re-using stuff, and people sharing stuff all lower global GPD. Growing a garden lowers GDP. Sharing a car with a neighbor lowers GDP. The goal of Twin Oaks is to bind people together in a strong, mutually-supportive group. The by-product of these structural decisions is that lives at Twin Oaks are demonetized; being demonetized, Twin Oakers lives don’t measure up.

Boom and bust cycles, unemployment, class-stratification, planned obsolescence, poverty, crime—these are the logical, predictable, and inevitable outcomes of mainstream economic measures. Not the system, not inefficiencies in the system, not poor implementation of capitalism; the very yardstick itself causes these bad outcomes.

Maybe the yardstick itself is wrong. [Click here to continue this article]

What if we are using the wrong economic metrics?

What if we are using the wrong economic metrics?

The Cville 5th Street Walmart Story

It was the Spring of 2006 and we had just started pro-local economy group called Trade Local in the Charlottesville area.  The group was supposed to support a healthy local economy through public information and positive actions.  The initial group of organizers felt there was plenty of oppositional politics already happening and we wanted to do something which was more upbeat and had positive  model value, rather than just endlessly trying to stop bad things from happening.

And then we got word that there was a proposed new Super Walmart within easy walking distance from the downtown mall.  This threw our careful plans from propositional actions out the window and we went into a crash course about how to stop a Walmart.

walmart protest poster

Efforts to get local business on the Cville downtown mall were largely ineffective.  They either thought Walmart would have little effect on their businesses or they thought there was nothing they could do about the giant arriving next door.  The local planning council was largely unresponsive to our letters and concerns about the project, perhaps also assuming the project was inevitable.  We were disheartened, but not discouraged.  We continued to call people, leaflet on the downtown mall and send out email alerts.

To build the super store Walmart needed a zoning variance on the land they were purchasing.  Zoning variances require public hearings, which generally speaking are not well attended.  But where local business and government failed, local citizens showed up in droves.  On the night of the hearing, the largest city meeting room was reserved and it had overflowed by ten minutes before the meeting was to start.  Over 300 locals showed up.

But this is a game Walmart has played many times.

The public speakers got up and many locals spoke in favor of the development.  They cited jobs, and tax revenue, and low prices and all the good Walmart would do. Their speak was couched, respectful and clear.   There were critics of the project as well, and they slightly outnumbered the proponents for the store, but if you were just listening to the speeches, you would guess the community was fairly evenly divided on the topic.

The High Cost of Low Prices

The High Cost of Low Prices

Taking a risk that he was right, one of our organizers who had secured a spot speaking to the planning council in this hearing threw away his careful prepared speech moments before ascending the stage.

“I have just one thing to say to Albemarle county planning board” He said, and then he turned his back to the officials and spoke to the over 200 people in the crowded room.

“If you are opposed to this Walmart please stand up” Over 90% of the audience rose.

“That is all i have to say to the elected planning board of Albemarle county”  It took some minutes to settle down the crowd.

Over the following months, the planning board put more and more requirements on the Walmart development: paying for changes to the traffic pattern, improvements to their proposed parking lot, ultimately requirements for the retail giant to help with low cost housing.

Walmart soon abandoned their plans for a store at this site.  The giant walked away.

 

 

Just don’t put them all in the same room

I re-remembered, as she got out of the hot tub at absurd o’clock last night, why i have such a wild crush both personally and politically on Teagan.  It is in part because she is fiercely pro-active.  Disguised as a suburban housewife, she is actually a full partner and founder of the Catalyst Community project, which is raging forward at stunning speed.  “We already have 10 of the 20 units spoken for.”  The project has been going on in earnest for less than 3 months.

Teagan is just a mom, like Emma Goldman was just a Lithuanian immigrant

Teagan is just a mom, like Emma Goldman was just a Lithuanian immigrant.

Teagan and i met nearly a decade ago when she came to do a visitor period at Twin Oaks.  She understood the importance of community, from her earlier experience living in one.  She was also charismatic, clever and quick to jump in and make things happen. I really wanted her to become a member, but quickly realized the chances of this were quite small.

Burner, Activist, Organizer - the action is never far from her.

Burner, Activist, Organizer – the action is never far from her.

Teagan is perhaps the only person to ever fail the Twin Oaks membership process during the interview.  When asked by Shal what she thought of compromise, she replied shortly, “compromise is not part of my vocabulary” and with this sentence her path to our commune vanished.

And it was for the best, the rural communes never could have contained her.  Teagan is one of those high impact personalities that needs all the space of a really big metropolis like NYC to cast her networking and social agenda upon. During the wee hours of the morning as we were sitting in her hot tub in the shadow of Manhattan, she shared several philanthropic leads she had discovered in her work building her own eco-village, which look like they might be excellent sources for Point A.

Tieagan and Arrows place is always full of interesting characters - here with my allies Karin and Sienna

Teagan and Arrow’s place is always full of interesting characters – here with my allies Karin and Sienna.

As the night wore on she shared her story about doing local organizing that successfully stopped a new Walmart.  She also shared a story of how friends approached her only hours before the application deadline to get Hurricane Sandy relief money. How her crafting of the grant application netted her colleagues’ school $35K.  They were thankful and appreciative, but for Teagan there was no question – this is what she does: Help friends out of their last minute jam and make good things happen for good people.

The wild color is not localized to her hair, it runs thru her entire identity

The wild color is not localized to her hair, it runs through her entire identity.

Generally upbeat, fiery, and committed to helping craft a better world, i am always pleased to be in her company.  She only comes in her special intense flavor.  The communities movement desperately needs a dozen more Teagans; just don’t put them all in the same room.

[Edited by Judy Youngquest]

 

Pathetic Conspiracies and Obscure Motivations

It is not surprising that people are worried about the radiation from Fukushima coming to the US across the Pacific.  There have been several stories about this in the alternative news.  One gave a long list of movie stars and personalities who were fleeing Hollywood because of the health effects of Fukushima.

Apparently ex-Governor Swartznegger is one of many leaving the Hollywood Hills in fear.

Apparently ex-Governor Swartznegger is one of many leaving the Hollywood Hills in fear.

So i asked my toxicologist friend Will to weigh in on this one, and i want to publicize his reply.

Oy.  It’s a load of crap, and it hardly takes any thought at all to show that.

I haven’t looked at the Pediatrics article, but I looked at the link you sent.  Here are the first three things I considered:

1) Article claims that I-131 levels were 211 times normal on the West Coast within a few days. Consider:  Distance Tokyo-Seattle = 4777 miles. 20 mph  x  24 hr/day  =  480 miles/day. So it takes maybe 10 days for any radiation to arrive if it blows here in a straight line at a steady 20 mph.

2) Article says hypothyroidism among newborns increased 16% from March 17 to December, and was 28% above normal during March 17 to June 30.

Consider:  Quake was on April 11.  Why are they looking at the period starting March 17?  Even if they could only get data for a chunky period, like monthly or quarterly, there’s no way the starting date should be 3/17.  The only reason I can imagine is that they cherry-picked the lowest point they could find in the period preceding the quake, and dishonestly compared to that.  In any case, it would take pretty high exposure to produce a substantial increase in newborn hypothyroidism among babies born right after the quake.  It would take a period of exposure to produce the hypothyroidism; it’s not as if radiation produces a sudden dramatic hypothyroid effect.  This is the same crap that I debunked for you a year or two ago, and it won’t go away.

3) I clicked the “measurements” link and quickly found that the article misrepresents the information at the link.  It was not UCB scientists who found “alarmingly” high levels; all of their data showed detectably increased, but still extremely low levels.  It’s this guy Kaltofen who supposedly found high levels.  The article says he found higher levels in “only two” “isolated US soil samples,” as compared to “control samples.”  It doesn’t say how many samples were taken, what it means to take “control samples” when deposition occurs nationwide, or anything like that.  And I don’t think it says where the higher-level samples were from, but that hardly matters; how would high levels accumulate in just specific spots in the US, after dispersion over 5-8000 miles? Fukushima couldn’t have contaminated specific points in the U.S. substantially more than other points, aside from presumably somewhat higher contamination in the West. I didn’t pursue this to the original data, because all three of the first things I looked at turned out to be false claims or wild misrepresentations, so it’s not worth looking into this any further.

Just to show how ridiculous the article is, think about this:  how would “movie industry” people know any more about this than the rest of us do?  This isn’t some kind of secret that movie industry people would be let in on, and the rest of us wouldn’t.  This is obviously wacko conspiracy thinking.

Chernobyl was a health disaster.  Fukushima very likely will turn out to be a health disaster as well, in Japan.  But this article is total nonsense, and I’m not concerned about health issues in the US resulting from Fukushima.  There are plenty of good arguments to make against nuclear power; don’t waste your time on this one.

This is one of those times when i am happy to rest on science as a truth model.  I have to wonder about the motivation of the authors of this article.  Did “Buttercup” who is credited with writing this article (always a bad sign when a news story is signed with an alias) think no one was going to fact check? Is this just a story to draw excited but gullible readers to the site?

blum

blum

It is quite frustrating that people are really suffering in Japan around the Fukushima disaster and we are instead focusing on where it is not happening and pretending it is a huge problem.

[Mostly Edited by Judy Youngquest]

Keenan’s Paper on Denying a Personal Affairs Leave

The good news is that Keenan has started blogging.  If the reason that you come to this blog is that you are interested in the inside story about what is happening at Twin Oaks, then you are quite likely to be more satisfied with Keenan’s blog which is mostly about those types of issues.  If you are looking for news about nuclear power, thoughts on polyamory, Funological analysis of trasnformative festivals or grading of our events, practical critiques of contemporary anarchism or what the front line is of growing the communities movement in eastern US cities, then you probably want to keep coming back to this blog.

Keenan, Marta and i at the Flying Lounge, Twin Oaks NYE party circa 2010?

Keenan, Marta and i at the Flying Lounge, Twin Oaks NYE party circa 2011?

If you are looking for proper spelling and good grammar, well thought out and argued positions on community policy, a rational long look at what make the community tick.  Then Keenan’s blog might be a great choice for you.  And of course you don’t need to choose, you can check out or subscribe to both.

Below are the first few paragraphs of a recent post he wrote which is nominally about not granting a leave to a member who left the community under a cloud of upset.  But really what it is is an explanation of how planners make exceptions to policy (or not) and how we are not a democracy, but something more interesting and hopefully more fair.

“No, you can’t come back.”

This is a paper I drafted as a community Planner.  The decision to deny a member a year-long leave was controversial, so I had to explain it very carefully and with a great deal of thought. It should be self-explanatory.
:::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::
The Planners stand by the decision to deny Bert a Personal Affairs Leave (PAL)



Some background to this decision: Bert left Twin Oaks in October of 2007, moved all of his stuff out, bought a house, bought a car, got a job, gave up his room and stopped turning in labor sheets.
 
Before we get to the policy details of why the Planners are denying Bert’s  request, we wish to frame this issue within a larger context. One purpose of the Plannership is to serve as a backstop for Twin Oaks policies. Frequently, the Planners are asked to make an exception to some policy and we occasionally grant it because the situation before the Planners is not adequately covered by the policy. Planners don’t like making exceptions to, or overriding written policies. But sometimes policies are poorly worded, sometimes they are incomplete, sometimes they are meant to cover one extreme situation that is unlikely ever to occur again. So it is up to the Planners to bring their judgment to bear on any application of policy to insure that it is not at odds with the well-being of the community as a whole, or the well-being of any individual member.
 
Planners make sure that the application of policies passes the muster of common sense. If a policy fails to cover the situation at hand, then the Planners have more than the right, but the duty to interpret, create, and make exceptions to policy. Most often exceptions are granted in the form of being more lenient. But exceptions can also be made in making the application of policy stricter.
 
            In the case before us, Bert is asking for a PAL. Bert has been gone from Twin Oaks for six months already and his PAL request means that he could be gone from Twin Oaks for up to another year and return as a full member with no further process. This request seems inconsistent with our policies, but it also seems inconsistent with the wishes of the majority of the community.
 
But the desire of the majority will not always carry the day. Twin Oaks is not meant to be a democracy. Our culture and policies strive to provide more protection for an individual than is the case in a mere democracy. Twin Oaks is in opposition to the tyranny of the majority. As a community, we also have chosen to protect the rights of minorities—even a minority of one. The Planners must always keep in mind in making a decision how this decision will affect the life or well-being of the “losing side” the minority. Even a minority or one must be protected if the loss of rights would be significant enough.

To see the rest of this article click the link below.

“No, you can’t come back.”

 

 

 

 

Cryptrographic Cat

I like writing about the contrast between communities, because it is illustrative of the choices we make and the different cultures we craft.  It has taken me over a year to write about this particular topic, because it was a secret for most of that time.

"You don't talk about Fight Club"

“What cat?”

For a number of good reasons and some poor ones many communities place restrictions on the numbers of some types of pets which can be in residence. Twin Oaks for example, limits the number of dogs to 4 and the number of cats to 10.  Dogs pack and thus howl at night, the number 4 was believed to be below the packing threshold (which it seems to be).  Cats have a high impact on local wildlife, birds, mice, moles etc.   In the egalitarian communities approved pets are budgeted for.   And while every pet must have a sponsor who is responsible for their welfare, the vet, food and other costs are paid for collectively.

One downside is that many people have allergies and try as we might, pets get into public spaces and make the lives of people who can’t share spaces with them difficult.  I am lucky and don’t have pet allergies, but i am highly aware of how we collectively basically discriminate against people with pet allergies in favor of the pets of some members.

One day when i was in the smoke shack at Acorn a grey cat strolled in who clearly felt like this space was theirs.  The cat was aptly named Fight Club, because it was a stray which had been adopted by some of the members and it was above the current cat limit.  So we just did not talk about it.

Fight-Club-movies-quotes-rules

The idea that a public cat could be a secret intrigued me.  I watched with interest as the Fight Club story unfolded.  The advocates for the cat were quick to grab the first cat spot which opened up for Fight Club when another cat departed when its owner moved on from community.  And despite the fact that the cat was then (and now) legitimate we kept the name. Good names are precious and this one had a lovely story to it as well.

Late last year, Acorn spawned Sapling.  At first it was a residence of Acorn which was not on the main campus.  But we knew it was quite likely to become its own community, since that is what most of the Spalingers wanted.  We agreed on a number of rules in the beginning to make it easier to sell the property in the event that the experiment did not work out.  One of these rules was “no pets”.  Sapling is now its own independent community (and there is a guest post in the offing describing it).  But a few months back when i came to visit Sapling a dog ran out and started barking at me.  When i asked what the dog’s name was i was told simply “That is Fight Club”.

[Edited by Judy Youngquest]

 

Who will build the roads?

Errico Malatesta was something of an anarchist super star, if such a thing is not self contradictory.  Toward the end of his life, he was so popular he could draw crowds in the tens of thousands to hear him speak.

His political career started early, as a boy he was arrested for writing an “insolent and threatening” letter to Italian King Victor Emmanuel II.  Many nations would look unfavorably at Malatesta, he was forced to leave Italy, he was blocked from entering Syria and Turkey, he was expelled from Switzerland.  He also opposed syndicalism because he believed it created an elite class of trades people.  He would spend ten years of his life in prison.

Malatesta was first arrested at 14

Malatesta was first arrested at 14

But it is his ideas and not his personal history which i find especially compelling.  One of the many compelling points in his short book “Anarchy” was:

Anarchy literally means “without government”. It has taken on the common secondary meaning of “disorder and confusion” only because people have been conditioned to believe that the abolition of government is impossible. In the days when people believed that the abolition of monarchy was impossible, the word “republic” carried a similar meaning to “anarchy” today.

I find it fascinating  that the people who control language choose a second meaning for the name of the style of government/self rule that they were afraid of with chaos and disorder, both for Republic a hundred years ago and for Anarchy today.

anarchy is not chaos

 

30 years ago i went to the Arcosanti community in the dessert of Arizona.  When i was younger i was fascinated by the dense building ideas of Paolo Solari who was the original designer of this extraordinary community.  When i was on the tour, someone kept explaining to our guide how this type of venture was impossible and would not work, they described all the businesses that they personally needed and how they could not see them there.  A blindness i would consider a failure of imagination.  

 

where we are going we dont need roads

 

 

Most people can not imagine work environments without bosses and hierarchy.  This failure of imagination leads them to think that these things are not possible.  And everyday i am at Acorn i am amazed, pleased and impressed by the business which we run that has no managers or bosses, dynamically determines much of the work which needs to be done and still comfortably succeeds in supporting the community.

There are dozens of answers to the question “Who will build the roads?” The fact that some people can’t visualize how this would be done, does not mean it can not be done, it often just means that people have poor imaginations or are wedded to the status quo.

 

Step outside the box

Step outside the box

 

 

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